America took a “Walk on the Wild Side” on this day in 1973. One of the most “out-there”, envelope-pushing singles of the decade peaked at #16 on Billboard: Lou Reed‘s “Walk on the Wild Side.”
The song which freely references oral sex and transvestites was written by Reed about some of the colorful characters he met at Andy Warhol’s hangout, including cross-dressing Holly Woodlawn and Joe “Sugar Plum Fairy” Campbell. Says Reed, “I always thought it would be fun to introduce people to characters they haven’t met before or wanted to meet.” The single was produced – expertly – by David Bowie and Mick Ronson and features a sax solo from Bowie’s old sax teacher, Ronnie Ross, and one of the most memorable basslines in rock history,put down by session musician Herbie Flowers.
Flowers was probably Britain’s best, and best-known session bassist back then (and briefly a member of T-Rex) and worked on hits for the likes of Nilsson, George Harrison and David Essex (“Rock On”) as well. His fee for the work, by the way- 17 pounds, or about $200 today.
The song hit top 20 in Canada, France and Italy as well and was Lou’s biggest-selling single ever. It has been listed by both Q and NME on their lists of the 100 best songs of all-time, and at #223 on a similar list by Rolling Stone which, perhaps tongue in cheek, call it a “sweetly nostalgic tale of the transvestites in Andy Warhol’s entourage” and marvel “it ever got played on the radio at all.” Surprisingly, the only line that caused trouble in some markets was “colored girls”, which some stations would bleep out or cause them to not play the song until a version with “all the girls” was substituted.